Design by Committee

Are any decent fiction books written by multiple people? I’m not a great reader but I don’t think they are. Is there a good reason for that – other than the actual technicalities of two people writing one book?

“a camel is a horse designed by committee”

It seems to me that when writing a book it’s important to keep true to a particular vision. To always be pulling in the same direction. To keep it pure.

Purity exists for me in Game Design too. Fez, Thomas Was Alone, Darwinia, Hotline Miami, Minecraft, Super Meat Boy, Spelunky. These are all very pure visions in my opinion. They wouldn’t have the same personality if they weren’t created by a minimal amount of people following their vision.

This is something that I’ve started to think about a lot as we try to expand Facepunch. Do we want the whole company working on one big game designed by everyone, or do we want to have games designed by a single person. To answer this we have to ask ourselves why we’re designing games. Are we doing it purely for profit? Do we care about what we’re pumping out.

I want Facepunch to be something different. If we can release a few games we’re proud of and break even I’ll be much happier than if we released one game we’re not very proud of (like a puzzle game that has lots of in game purchases) and make lots of profit. Profit shouldn’t be our prize. Our prize is the process. We’re doing this because we love making games. If the we sell the game and it makes more money than we spent making it then we are even happier.

This is what draws me to the idea that we should be designing horses, not camels. We don’t need to play it safe. We don’t need to please everyone. The gamedev world is full of people working on games they don’t believe in. If this is the game I design, I want to play, my vision, then someone somewhere will enjoy it. If not – fuck it, I like it.

20 thoughts on “Design by Committee

  1. It seems to me that you’ll achieve better purity of vision when there’s a single vision to follow, and that’s why I do a lot of skunkworks development (“code it before telling anyone”). Even so, there’s lots of room for feedback from others and brainstorming with the right people can certainly result in a better outcome if you don’t allow yourself to drift along the tide of suggestions too much.

    Even book authors have editors, and nearly every work of fiction that I really enjoy has had a section at the beginning thanking those who participated in the creative effort in some way, often by being a good sounding board for the author.

    For me, the most productive and enjoyable approach has always been to do it my way whether others like it or not, but remain open to outside ideas that enhance rather than dilute the final vision.

  2. This is very similar to what EA’s starting vision was. Theirs was a focus on the ‘arts,’ hence the name Electronic Arts.

    Just goes to show that eventually you become the thing you hate.

  3. This seems to be universally true. It’s quite easy to see why. Once you have more people working on your product, it means more is at risk. Though there are a few notable exceptions. It seems Sony sometimes gives large budgets to small teams to create risky titles. And that did pretty well for them (Journey and Shadow of the Colossus were made by relatively small teams).

    I think it’s perfectly possible to grow big and keep making wonderful experimental games (Valve comes to mind). The problem is that you need the talent to pull it off. There’s still a risk that all your games are shit.

  4. There are loads of fiction books written by multiple people (James Patterson usually writes with others and he is one of the biggest selling authors out there). Just like there are loads of excellent games written and designed by multiple people.

    It is all about scope. One person cannot write all the quests, sidequests, dialogue, flavour text and more for a game like Guild Wars or Morrowind and also design all the different gameplay elements.

    For smaller games a single writer designer is a good idea true but beyond that I disagree with you totally.

  5. I think having multiple writers can work. Take a look at the Internet/TV show Video Game High School (might not be a book, but it still has to be written). They have three writers who complement each other. To me, it doesn’t really look like they compromised on the insanity of the show, for the sake of reaching a wider audience.

  6. I just finished reading The Long Earth, written by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter, and I’m now reading the sequel, The Long War. I loved them both and both authors brought their very unique experience together, creating a cool combination of ideas.

    I think collaboration is important as different people can have a lot of unique ideas that one person could not put together alone. Saying that, they do need to start out with a single vision, or someone with the vision needs to be ultimately in control to prevent random ideas from polluting it.

    Your ethos is fairly similar to Valve’s, I think, and they have managed. I think the key is to still have small-ish teams working on various things rather than trying to have 50 people in the office working on one huge project, all with their different ideas and thoughts on how it should be put together.

    tl;dr if you want to expand, only hire people who are like minded and have have them work on smaller projects, then if they come up with something really brilliant then that can be carefully nurtured.

  7. There is the website Ficly. Unfortunately their Facebook log in quit and they don’t want to seem to fix it, but it is a cool little collaborative fiction site that has some neat little projects.

    looking forwards to trying Garry’s Mod, but not exactly sure what the difference is between the 10$ one and the one that is on your website…

    1. I should note that Ficly works… just the facebook login doesn’t. check it out, its a pretty cool little site that encourages people to write… you can add to other peoples stories, sequels or prequels… with a word limit to encourage succinctness

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